Category Archives: Movies – Holic on Horror

Re-Experiencing the ’80s Through Horror Flicks

As you might recently have seen from my essay “The Horror Aisle” at The Burrow Press Review, I’ve tried–over the last couple years–to re-watch and re-experience the ’80s and ’90s through old horror flicks. In that essay, I described my experiences with the movies The Sleeping Car and Dark Side of the Moon. But there were other movies I watched or re-watched, too. Some of them, I watched because…well, I’d watched the movie as a kid, and I’d loved it…and I wondered if it was still any good, or if I was just a crazy and delusional kid. Others weren’t “re-watch” efforts, though. Sometimes I just found some old horror movie on Netflix and watched with the mission of filling in gaps in my pop culture/horror knowledge. Like, I was really compelled to watch Phantasm because, um, how had I not seen this? Was I the only person in the world who hadn’t seen it? (Sanity Alert: that’s one of the dumber and more irrational thoughts I’ve ever had.)

Here, in no particular order, are some of the short observations and reflections that I wrote after my viewing experiences.

Critters (1986)

It’s amazing to think about the movies that entertained and “wowed” me as a youth, and it’s amazing to think that I really couldn’t tell the difference in budgets/FX from movies like “Gremlins” and movies like “Critters” and “Ghoulies.” So I watched this movie again. Let’s just say this: stick with “Gremlins.” A lot more mayhem, and a lot less time spent with rednecks standing around pointing at hay or using down-home country expressions that are supposed to be cute and endearing.

Phantasm

Why do so many of the 1970s cult classic horror films now seem so trite, so boring, and even so horribly inept? I watched a whole heap of them. From Don’t Look Now to Last House on the Left, so many of these movies seem to rely on awful gimmicks and twists (and dialogue) that would make an Introductory Fiction Writer cringe. I’d like to think that these movies are artifacts, appreciated if viewed in context, before steady advances in special effects and even in the quality of horror scriptwriting…but Rosemary’s Baby  and Night of the Living Dead came in the 1960s, and these movies still subscribe to solid storytelling techniques.

Phantasm, on the other hand, has no sense of internal logic, and ends with the protagonist waking up. It was all just a dream! Really? A dream? So I watched an hour and a half of some little douche-bag teenager’s dream? Cool. It’s like The Usual Suspects, except it doesn’t just change the way we viewed the previous ninety minutes; it negates it. And there are people out there who justify this sort of filmmaking by calling it a “cult classic,” as if it was daring to have a character wake up from a dream at the end. Um. No. It was a cop-out.

The Funhouse (1981)

I’m an absolute sucker for ’80s horror films with a now-famous name attached to them (i.e. George Clooney in Return to Horror High). And every time I watch one of them, I wonder why I ever bother. Funhouse is interesting for just one reason: it’s strange to me to see the weird ’80s trend of using mask-clad slashers whose faces are horribly disfigured, grotesque, latexy, even alien-ish…and there’s always one scene where a character grabs the mask, lifts it, then screams. Um. Did ’80s audiences not see it coming? That every masked killer would look the same, like a cross between E.T., Sam Cassell, and Sloth from Goonies? Anyway, this film is slow and brainless. No real sense of logic, though the main actress is quietly unsettling for some reason.

Ghoulies

I remember seeing this movies as a kid and loving it. But then again, I was a stupid kid, and I probably confused this film with Gremlins. In any case, I re-watched it recently, and I honestly can’t believe this thing was ever made. It’s truly terrible. It makes Critters look like cinematic gold. When the movie focuses on the little green ghoulie creatures, there’s some fun to be had…but 90% of the film is involved in this strange satanic/ warlock plot, with amazingly atrocious special effects. I’m not even lying: I really cannot believe this thing was ever made. It’s staggering to the imagination that there were several people who thought this would be a good idea.

Night of the Comet (1984)

Not exactly The Walking Dead or Zombieland, but if you’re looking for a movie that combines (a) apocalypse, (b) zombies, (c) horrible ’80s hair, clothes, music, and catch-phrases, (d) secret underground military labs, of the type only found in ’80s Cold War movies, (e) a sense of self-amusement, and (f) amazingly eerie ’80s special effects which create–lord only knows how–a deserted Los Angeles populated only with red dust and zombies…then Night of the Comet is the perfect movie for a “Bad Movie Night!” If you want substance, check out the original Dawn of the Dead. But this movie seriously felt like I was watching an episode of “I Love the ’80s.” The filmmakers should remake it in “Pop Up Video” fashion, which could be even more fun.

The Howling

When I was a kid, I used to watch this movie for the werewolf transformation scenes. Lots of under-the-skin bubbling, fur growing out of biceps, claws extending, that sort of thing. It’s really cool if you’re 10. I recently watched this movie again (oh, Sci Fi Channel, thank you for answering my prayers for bad horror flicks), and let me tell you: it’s not quite so cool when you’re old enough to have kids of your own. Absurd premise, stupid plot developments, and laughably awful special effects by today’s standards. This movie’s a childhood relic, and nothing more. Boy, this entire blog post was kind of a downer, huh?

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Oh, the Horror

Two quick links for you, this Sunday afternoon in early November.

First, my epic essay “The Horror Aisle” is up at Burrow Press Review. It’s an exploration of my lifelong obsession with horror movies, and a walk down memory lane for those of you who remember what it was like to spend thirty or forty minutes wandering the video store, searching for the perfect movie for your Friday night. It’s also a love letter to the golden age of bloody B-movies, the late ’80s and early ’90s.  Admit it: you’ve always wanted a serious essay to discuss such gems as C.H.U.D. and The Stuff.

And over at the fantastic online journal decomP, you’ll find my short story “Submission Guidelines.” More accurately, it probably should have been titled “Submission Guidelines in the Age of the Zombie Apocalypse,” but I used up my allotment of super-long titles this year. The story follows a lit mag editor who is forced to craft guidelines for his magazine  after (you guessed it) zombies have destroyed America, and have eaten all the other lit mag editors. If you’ve ever submitted a story to a literary journal, you should enjoy this one.

Yes, these are both horror-themed writings, and Halloween was last week, so it feels like this posting is a little late. But hopefully you’ve still got a little Halloween spirit in you…maybe your pumpkin is still sitting on your front porch, going from orange to black/brown, and maybe your candy dish inside is still full of the worst left-over candies imaginable, and there are bits and pieces of costumes strewn about your living room that you don’t want to throw away (but which you know you’ll never wear again), and you’re thinking: It can’t be over! I’ve got to wait a full year until next Halloween? No. No, you don’t. Read my essay. Read my story. And for a few brief moments, it’s Halloween all over again.

Midnight Meat Train

Even though Midnight Meat Train sounds like a really terrible porno, I was able to convince my wife that it was acceptable for me to rent because Bradley Cooper is the star. Granted, she still wouldn’t watch it with me, but I just want to go on record by saying this, first and foremost: God bless horror filmmakers who cast recognizable and credible talent in their movies. It makes my life feel less sleazy.

As for the film itself? Midnight Meat Train has a style all its own, and for horror fans, it’s definitely worth watching, but it’s also excessive and gratuitous and violent for violence’s sake. We watch murder after murder, each in slick slow-mo, mallets pounding heads, blood spraying across windows, and we eventually start to wonder why we’re watching so much of it. Sometimes, this film feels more like a highlight reel of murder footage than it does a horror film that uses violent acts to progress a story. Is the movie stylish? Yes. But it seems to be self-indulgently stylish, much the same as the “Final Destination” movies, with their Rube Goldberg death scenes.

As for the story? I’ll be absolutely honest. I thought it was an interesting concept. There’s a murderer aboard the subways in New York, and apparently a conspiracy, too, as he slices and dices in the dead of the night, and the bodies disappear into the bowels of the city’s underground. Why is he killing? Why is no one asking questions? A photographer (Cooper) seeks these answers, and he is drawn into the conspiracy itself.

The problem with the film’s structure, though, is that it keeps the answers from the audience until the final frames of the film…the obvious reason, of course, is that the filmmakers want a big, dramatic reveal…

And yes, the reveal is interesting. But I want to see how the characters deal with the new information at the very end. Instead, this movie gives us a gimmick ending which wastes the entire concept upon which the film was built. It would be like Jaws waiting until the final frame to show that (yes!) it was indeed a shark after us all along, and then the shark eats everyone very quickly, and the movie fades to black.

Worth seeing for horror fans, but unfortunately, Midnight Meat Train is a missed opportunity to reinvigorate the horror genre.

Wizard of Gore

So the name of the movie is Wizard of Gore, and I know what you’re thinking: why would you ever rent a movie called Wizard of Gore and expect it to be any good?

That’s a valid question, I suppose, right up there with, “Why did you buy Redneck Zombies on VHS when you were in college?” But it might require too much personal self-assessment for a casual Monday evening.

Actually, though, the cheesy-sounding title, coupled with top-billing for the always-wacky Crispin Glover, and other spots for Brad Dourif (a horror movie icon, the voice of Chucky) and Kip Pardue (seems like a goober if you’ve only seen Driven, but he was great in Rules of Attraction), led me to believe that The Wizard of Gore might be an undiscovered gem. Maybe this was a Midnight Meat Train type of movie, some horror-loving director’s pet project that never really got the recognition that it deserved.

And for the first thirty minutes or so, the movie has potential. In fact, it has a noir-ish quality to it, with Kip Pardue dressing and behaving like a 1940s journalist despite the fact that the characters are frequenting clubs and parties for sexual deviancy. There was a vacant-sounding voice-over, even. I got my hopes up. I started thinking Dark City.

And then Crispin Glover arrived, acting weird as always, playing the part of “Montag the Magnificent,” an illusionist who lures large crowds of other weirdos (horror freaks, S&M freaks, Nazi freaks, etc.) to abandoned theaters and warehouses, and then appears to perform shows in which he hacks up the most whore-ish of female volunteers from the audience. The crowds–who had previously been skeptical of any magic tricks, and who appeared to have been desensitized to violence–are horrified…until Montag reveals the illusion and the young women reappear, unharmed, and then the crowds go wild as he asks them, “Did you feel something?”

At first, this is a fun stunt. We’re not sure where the movie is taking us, but it’s got so many strange elements in play that we trust it.

Then we get our first murder. One of the women is found dead. And the movie heads in an even stranger direction, but suddenly loses focus, becomes disjointed. The rest of the world around the characters comes into clearer focus, and (disappointingly) it seems as though it’s just a normal world. So we’re not sure what to make of Pardue’s journalist act, nor his old-school telephone or ’40s-era apartment. And then there’s an underlying plot element concerning a hallucinatory drug, and something about people being used to murder other people for unknown reasons, and really, it all just falls apart for the last thirty or forty minutes.

So Wizard of Gore isn’t an instant classic. Too bad. But I suppose I should be glad that it was bad in an interesting way, that it never became bad in a predictable mainstream sort of way.

Cabin Fever 2

So…there’s a special place in my heart for direct-to-video horror sequels. And I can’t really explain why. Maybe it’s because, when I was younger, my parents used to give me a wad of cash and let me wander the old “Video Giant” and pick out horror movies in October as part of their “seven movies for seven dollars for seven days,” and I would find the worst crap imaginable. (I actually rented every single “Puppet Master” movie, and I don’t think ANY of them was ever released in a theater)

Over the past few years, perhaps in an effort to relive my creature-feature childhood years, I’ve rented and DVR’d such direct-to-video greats as “Stir of Echoes 2: The Homecoming,” “Wrong Turn 2,” “The Boogeyman 2,” “The Descent II,” and “The Mangler Part II.” Yes, I know. Most of the originals weren’t even good (the original “Mangler” wasn’t even just bad…it was abominable), and I never really have any delusions that the new installment will be watchable. I just keep renting and renting these low-budget sequels, regardless of quality, regardless of track record. Why do I do this to myself?

“Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever” was my latest poor choice.

And, of course, I should have known better than to expect brilliance, right? This was a mean-spirited film, a movie that misidentified the strengths of the original, and in an effort to continue the story and “give audience more of what they wanted,” simply gave us everything that we did NOT want.

The original “Cabin Fever” works because it understands horror movies, and it slowly builds the dread and the dark atmosphere, occasionally giving gentle nods to the many different horror films that has inspired it. Then, once we’re hooked, once we’re really into it, it goes crazy. Over-the-top. Scary-gory at first, then funny-gory as a way to relieve the tension. Was it a good movie? I don’t know. A lot of people hated it. But I enjoyed it because it was so patient in its development of the horror, and because Eli Roth obviously seemed to care about horror movies, and you could feel the energy and passion of his filmmaking in every scene. It’s no wonder he eventually palled up with Quentin Tarantino.

But “Cabin Fever 2” gets it wrong. Basically, the filmmakers here decided that the only reasons that anyone enjoyed “Cabin Fever” were (a) It had hillbillies, and hillbillies are funny, and (b) It had wince-inducing gore.

So this movie does indeed have hillbillies, and it does indeed have wince-inducing gore. From the very start. And every gory scene seems to want to one-up anything we saw in the original “Cabin Fever.” From strip club scenes to fellatio in a high school bathroom, this movie just piles it on. But it doesn’t seem like the filmmakers are having fun with it; it just seems like they want us to be uncomfortable. And…well…mission accomplished. If the first “Cabin Fever” was a love letter to horror films, then “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever” is like a comment from a rival fan on a sports message board. The gore isn’t scary, and it isn’t funny. And the experience of the film does make us turn our heads and cover our eyes, but we aren’t experiencing the thrill of a great horror film; we’re just waiting for the entire thing to be over.

Best Worst Movie

“Best Worst Movie” is too good to be true, a documentary about one of the most ridiculous movies ever created…And because I’d never seen “Troll 2” (the best worst movie that this documentary profiles), every excerpt and every reference was made that much more ridiculous. You’ll watch a scene from the film and you’ll think, “I have no idea what the hell they’re talking about.” Then you watch “Troll 2,” and you still don’t understand it. Good stuff.

And what makes this documentary such a riot is that the cast and crew of “Troll 2” is also ridiculous. Some of the actors/actresses can take the joke, and it’s fun to see where they went in their lives and careers. Others (such as the director) continue to take the film seriously, to defend it, to believe that it was misunderstood, etc. It’s great comedy, either way.

Michael Stephenson (who directed “Best Worst Movie”) takes a novel approach with the film, though, that allows it to achieve real emotional resonance. First of all, he’s actually the child star from “Troll 2,” and the film utilizes a personal approach to show us his own story. Why did he get involved with the movie to begin with? What did it do to his career? What effect has it had on his life? Stephenson then puts the focus squarely on George Hardy, the other major star of the film, and we follow Hardy as he soaks up the spotlight when “Troll 2” becomes a strange cult hit. Yes, there’s a lot of funny stuff in this film, but there’s an element of tragedy when we hear about the careers of various actors and actresses, and there’s even an element of hope when we consider what this documentary might do for both Hardy and Stephenson.

After watching “Best Worst Movie,” I actually decided to watch “Troll 2,” since it was on Netflix instant play. And yeah, it was a terrible (but a good-natured terrible, like an Ed Wood movie or a fake wrestling match) motion picture, but pairing these two movies together in a single night (with a bottle of win) was a damn good time. Compare the experience to some of the more bitter and mean-spirited and/or formulaic fare that I’ve seen recently (I’m looking at you, “Book of Eli”), and there’s no question: this was a much better experience.

“Troll 2” might actually be the worst movie of all time, from a storytelling standpoint. Honestly. Nothing makes sense, and the acting will make you laugh uncontrollably, over and over. But I suppose I could compare it to a “good” or “bad” Super Bowl. Technically, we’re supposed to want a Super Bowl where we get to see two really good teams square off and play as flawlessly as possible; technically, we’re supposed to want to see good defense. But sometimes, the best football games are the ones where everything gets out of control, where the defense breaks down and suddenly the score is 45-42 and it’s all audibles and no-huddle offense and absolute craziness. The football game isn’t “technically sound,” but hot damn, it’s entertaining. Way more entertaining than a 10-13 “defensive game.”

The Box (2009)

 

It’s tough to be super-critical of “The Box,” because it’s the sort of movie that really does take chances, and it really wants to be the sort of horror movie whose story offers deep commentary on society and culture.

Most horror movies are satisfied, after all, with a mildly interesting concept (or a killer/slasher who wears a different sort of mask than we’ve seen before), a bunch of gore, maybe a boob shot, and a “shock/surprise” scene or two. Who cares about special effects, unless we’re talking about the creativity of the kills? Who cares about careful and patient plotting, about questions left unanswered because they are meant to inspire thought? Who cares about the cast, even, so long as the teenagers are good-looking?

But “The Box” is so ambitious that it takes a story that could have been told anytime, anywhere, and sets in the 1970s, perhaps in an effort to stay true to the original Richard Matheson story. The art direction, then, feels almost “Mad Men”-esque, with careful attention to color in clothing, wallpaper, furniture, and vehicles. In fact, there’s even a “Zodiac” angle to the film, as a great deal of its tension is heightened by the absence of technology (cell phones, cable TV, internet). “The Box” is even an ambitiously casted horror film, offering us not just Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, but a host of other character actors, from Frank Langella and James Rebhorn to Celia Weston, actors and actresses who bring credibility to the film. You get the impression that the entire crew really really cared about this movie, that they thought it might be something special.

But it’s not. That’s the problem. “The Box” begins with an interesting premise, one that’s revealed in all of the trailers and publicity materials: a mysterious man delivers to a suburban couple a box that, if its button is pressed, will give the couple a million dollars, but will also cost the life of someone they don’t know. Interesting material for a terrifying psychological thriller…and yes, there’s all sorts of potential for sharp commentary, if only the movie could stay focused.

Unfortunately, it quickly descends into a “Plan 9 From Outer Space” plot. Yes, this is much slicker than an Ed Wood film, with a much bigger budget, and high degree of technical achievement, but we go from Couple with a Box and a Choice to: man struck by lightning to give him superpowers, hordes of puppet-people who can be possessed and manipulated, communication with something on Mars, weird off-exit hotel with walls of tin foil, Stargate-style gateways to the “other side,” boxes of water that float above beds, and NASA and military intrigue. It’s so much, and it’s so ridiculous, that we wind up exhausted from all of it, unable to maintain our waning emotional attachment to the married couple at the center of the film.

In the end, I admired the energy behind “The Box,” the dedication and the love that the filmmakers had, but it’s just a hokey B-movie that doesn’t realize it’s a B-movie. It wants to be something much more grand, much deeper. Really, then, it’s a problem of tone: this movie chose to be dark and brooding and thoughtful, when perhaps it could have been successful if it had tapped into the bizarre and maybe had fun with it.

Paranormal Activity II, and the Motivations of Demons

I’ve learned not to expect too much from horror sequels. Last week, after all, I watched Lost Boys: The Thirst, and I don’t need to write a review to tell you how that one turned out. And anyone remember Blair Witch 2, which was much slicker than the original but which took that franchise into a quick tailspin from which it never recovered? That’s what I was expecting with Paranormal Activity 2.

But surprise! I absolutely loved this movie.

For starters, it took what we loved from the original film (the do-it-yourself handheld videotaping, the young couple who cannot escape the “paranormal activity” haunting them) and improved upon it. In this sequel, we’ve got handheld cameras, yes, but the film offers dozens of additional security cameras throughout the house; some are more prominently used than others, but the storytelling is much more fluid because we are able to see so much, to move from room to room without any difficulty. Also, whereas the first film focused on a young couple in a big house, the sequel gives us a complete family (husband, wife, young girl, newborn boy, dog), which automatically makes the entire situation Poltergeist-tense, and we also get a house that feels a thousand times too large for the family. Sometimes horror films succeed because of claustrophobia; in this case, though, the movie succeeds because of emptiness, the feeling that there is just so much space all around you that could be haunted, and there’s no way to get away from it all.

But the other great thing about this film is that it actually builds upon the story of the original, clarifying and sharpening the background, history, and overall conflict. It’s a prequel, sort of, and we actually see the characters from the original appear at various points throughout the film. We even come to understand how/when certain events in this film happen in relation to events in the original (much like Back to the Future II, where Marty McFly actually sees scenes from the first film happening in front of him).

My main gripe with the original film, in fact, was that it had an “easy” ending. The story had built and built, and really, the filmmakers saw no other way to end the thing except to suddenly give us a possession and a death. That movie (I argued) failed in the final frame because it forgot the motivation behind the demon at the center of the haunting. Sounds strange, I know. But the demon has a motivation for haunting the couple. And if the demon wanted to kill either of them, it could have killed them in the first scene. So why wait until an hour and a half of footage had elapsed? And if the demon wanted to possess the girl, why hadn’t it done so years earlier? Why wait? No, the movie actually told us (and The Exorcist used this same motivation for its demon) that the haunting was all about fear and terror, making someone’s life terrible. Why was a young girl possessed in The Exorcist? Because the devil wanted to be a dick. And you know what? That’s an excellent motivation.

So I loved the original, but hated the ending. Here, however, the story actually reveals a different motivation for the demon. And, just as in the movie Poltergeist, we come to know exactly why this family is being haunted. And this ties together brilliantly with the reason for the haunting of the young couple from the original. It would have been easy for this sequel to just give us a completely different couple in, say, North Carolina, and to just start a series of films about random unrelated hauntings…it still could have made a lot of money. But the film builds on the original, and actually makes the original into a better movie. The final scene in Paranormal Activity 2 is every bit as scary as the first, but it left me uneasy long afterwards, rather than leaving me questioning the entire premise.

It’s also important for me to note (because this is what I always do) that this series is shaping up to be the ultimate example of Millennial Literature. It’s a story crafted by the participants (handheld cameras, security cameras, etc.), and it’s all at once slick and well-produced, but still grainy and throwback, as if it’s just a bit disgusted with CGI. What makes it such an interesting example of Millennial Literature, though, is that so many movies and TV shows appeal to the youth generation by growing ever-louder, by jump-cutting epileptically, and the Paranormal Activity films are quiet, slow, still; they use silence and motionless images to capture our attention, rather than shouting at us. Quite the contrast to the average Millennial-targeted blockbuster.

Nathan’s New “Nightmare”

The original “Nightmare on Elm Street” series had a strangely profound impact on me when I was a kid. The third film (“Dream Warriors”) was the first R-rated horror movie that I was allowed to watch on my own, thanks to a birthday gift of a VCR, and a few blank VHS tapes on which I recorded the movie during a late-night cable airing. I was in elementary school, and yes, it was violent and sometimes exploitative and corny, but I remember watching the movie and feeling the same sense of creativity and imagination as when I was reading/watching “The Hobbit” or “The Uncanny X-Men,” or any number of other fantasy books and movies. When my friends somehow managed to get a “Friday the 13th” or “Faces of Death” movie for a late-night sleep-over, they’d all go wild. But for some reason, it didn’t compare.

Yes, there were lots of crazy kills in those other slasher films, but Freddy existed in a dream world. The movies offered both your greatest fantasy (turning into a wizard! turning into a superhero!) and also the most crushing terror (even in your fantasy world, you were defenseless). I somehow found a way to rent or record every single “Nightmare” movie up until that point (this was 1988 or 1989, I think), and I could eventually recite all of the different dream sequences, describe all of the imaginative dream worlds in which the hapless teenagers found themselves. I knew all the punchlines, scared my parents and teachers by singing the “1-2, Freddy’s coming for you” song. And every movie had the perfect paranoid theme lingering just beneath the surface: that no one would listen to the kids, that the parents were terrible and why wouldn’t anyone believe what the kids were saying? Etc.

I forced my mother to take me to see “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” (“Mom, it’s in 3-D, and it’s rated R, and I can’t go without a parent or guardian! Mom! Mom! Mom!”), and then “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” became the first R-rated movie I was able to see by myself, as my mother walked me up to the ticket booth and bought the ticket and handed it to me and then headed back to the car while I sprinted into the theater and hoped nobody would throw me out. When I first bought a DVD player, the only Christmas gift I wanted was the “Nightmare on Elm Street” Platinum Series box set, and for awhile (while I was a poor college student), it was pretty much the only DVD(s) on my shelf.

It’s strange, then, to consider a remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” given my lifelong obsession with the series. When I first heard that a studio was “re-imagining” Freddy Krueger from scratch, that there would be a series without Robert Englund, I felt…old and hollow. Because I remembered when I was a kid and I would laugh at my own parents when their favorite movies and television shows were remade, and I’d tell them how much better the remake was. It’s in color! It’s got new actors in it! So much better! You don’t understand, Nathan, they said. It’s like someone is screwing up the memory of my childhood. And yes, viewed from a perspective of twenty years later, I think we can all say that “The Flintstones” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Little Rascals” were best left alone. I don’t think the world needed a “Psycho” remake.

And after watching “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” I know that the world didn’t need Freddy Krueger re-imagined.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the movie is a slap-dash piece of storytelling, with poorly established characters and a shaky story structure. By the thirty-minute mark in the movie, I wasn’t sure who the protagonist was (yes, there was a character named Nancy, just as in the original, but the movie seemed undecided on whether it cared about her), and by the forty-five minute mark, I had decided that I didn’t care about any single character. They all felt like props. Just moving from here, to there, saying this, saying that, as if it was all pre-ordained by some previous film released 25 years ago. The dream sequences were all similar, but just slight upgrades in terms of special effects…some were even so CGI or big-budget-glossy that they looked fake, and I preferred the gritty low-budget original.

And I think this is one problem with re-imagining Freddy Krueger. The filmmakers didn’t actually want to re-imagine him. They only wanted to “update” him for a new generation, to update the special effects and the music and the actors, and so everything felt artificial.

The main problem, though, is that I hated the new Freddy. Listen, I think Jackie Earle Haley was fantastic as Rorschach in “Watchmen,” and it’s a tough job to play two different iconic characters. There will always be disappointed fans somewhere. But Haley–perhaps in an effort to make this movie more “complex” or “mature” and to downplay any of our memories of the wise-cracking pop icon version of Freddy–really played up the “pedophile” side of Freddy Krueger, and it started to really make me uncomfortable. And not a good “horror movie” uncomfortable.

When I saw Englund, I was scared of Freddy’s glove, scared of the dream world, scared of death. When I saw Haley, I was scared for my old 10-year-old self. Someone protect Little Nathan from the pedophile Freddy! It was as if my favorite relative or teacher from childhood–someone I respected, someone whose lap I’d sat upon, or who had counseled me after-school–was suddenly revealed to be a child molester twenty years later. Now you start to view the relationship differently.

And what’s more uncomfortable for me: if this new “Nightmare” is in any way similar to the new “Star Wars” films, with the generation latching on and identifying with the CGI/ADD version of the story and the characters and dismissing the old and “stupid” versions, I have this feeling that there will be a Nathan Jr. someday who develops his own fascination with the “Nightmare” series. I just hope I can get him attached to the originals before he sees these; I’ll start him young.

Feast II: Sloppy Seconds

I don’t remember being impressed by the original Feast, but because I have a sick fascination with direct-to-video sequels, I decided to rent Feast II: Sloppy Seconds. This came right on the heels of Cabin Fever 2, which was not only a massive disappointment, but an unrelenting and mean-spirited gross-out/gore-fest without redeeming characters or plot.

So maybe I should have seen it coming: Feast II was also an unrelenting and mean-spirited gross-out/gore-fest without redeeming characters or plot. The opening scene features an angry biker woman shooting a dog. Not even a vicious dog. Just a dog. So the tone of the film from the very start is cruel. Heartless. Violence = fun. And hey, listen, I know it’s all fictional, not a real dog, not real people, etc., but this tone permeates the entire film, and so we wind up never forming an emotional attachment to any of the characters.

No, wait. I take that back. We wind up disliking every single one of the characters. Like Cabin Fever 2, which was only interested in one-upping the gore with each new scene, we see that the filmmakers are more interested in their own personal technical achievements (how to convincingly tear off limbs, that sort of thing) than in telling an interesting story or creating interesting characters. It’s blood on top of puke on top of acid-vomit on top of shit on top of pierced eyeballs on top of torn-off limbs on top of…you get the idea…gore for gore’s sake.

And Feast II, as I mentioned, is unrelenting in its cruelty. There’s no humanity, no character who seems even remotely sympathetic. And that’s a shame, because the John Gulager (director) that I remember from Project Greenlight seemed like he was a quirky but dedicated artist, someone who believed in the films he was creating. And it’s hardly possible to imagine anyone believing in Feast II.

The John Gulager I remember was the very reason that Project Greenlight was an interesting show; he brought humanity to the unlikeable veneer of Hollywood assembly-line film production. Now it’s the assembly-line film production that seems likable by comparison.